Editor’s Note: Here at The Debutante Ball, we strive to give an insider look at our experiences with the publishing industry. But we also like to contribute to the dialogue on important topics in publishing, which is why this week we’ve decided to focus on diversity— and have each asked a guest author to discuss their experiences in the industry. We know we can’t solve the issues with a few blog posts, but we’re hoping we can add to the conversation and perhaps even spark some new ideas.
My guests this week are the dynamic husband and wife writing duo, Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung. Kristy and Bryce co-wrote LITTLE MISS EVIL (Spencer Hill Middle Grade) — a fun and feisty middle grade novel about 13-year-old Fiona, her horrendously irresponsible super-villain dad, and the giant flamethrower strapped to her arm. As a lucky early reader of this book, I can vouch that it’s full of action, humor, and features a young heroine — what more could you ask for? (There’s a giveaway at the end of the post!)
So without further ado, here’s Kristy and Bryce, talking about how they came to be ‘fighting the good fight’…
We were sitting at a lunch table at the Javits Center in New York, May 2014. All around us, in that manic swirl of Book Expo America (or BEA, as the cool kids call it), is where we first met Ellen Oh and Lamar Giles, two of the original founders of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign.
It was a fledgling little operation and they had just finished speaking to a packed conference room. A friend had introduced us, and we happily volunteered to help man the main exhibition hall booth. “Let’s go fight the good fight,” we joked, figuring it would be more fun to experience BEA from behind a booth than in front of one.
Little did we know that this was the birth of a movement.
The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign started as a response to BEA’s decision to include only white males in their keynote “Author Breakfast” panel. As newly published authors, this annoyed us enough, but we had no reason to believe it would affect those outside the publishing industry. We had no idea how important our fight truly was.
That changed on August 9, 2014. In a little-known middle-America town named Ferguson, Michael Brown, an unarmed eighteen-year-old, was shot dead by a white policeman, and the world watched as Ferguson and discussions about Ferguson quickly and angrily became divided along racial lines.
That’s when we finally realized how important this campaign was.
WNDB is not just about helping diverse authors or supporting diverse titles. It’s about creating the world we want our next generation to live in.
We are not in a post-racial world. Not yet. Racial prejudice and racial discrimination are still around us, simmering below the surface. And when it erupts, it often erupts violently. On the streets of Ferguson. On the avenues of New York. On the sidewalks of Washington DC.
But the nasty thing about clashes that feature riot gear, and batons, and Molotov cocktails, is that they are not the real battlefields. The best-case scenario is a ceasefire. That is not the same thing as peace.
The real battlefield is in the classroom, and in the hearts and minds of the next generation. The real soldiers are the teachers, the parents, and the librarians.
If we could convince kids that diversity is not something to be feared, but something to be treasured, they would react not with fear, but with curiosity. Racial and sexual discrimination would be something the last generation did, something they have no interest in perpetuating, and they would succeed in creating the post-racial world we’ve always dreamed of.
One way to do it is with diverse books.
As authors, the most powerful ability we have is creating worlds. Worlds in which African American characters can be first-page heroes rather than front-page criminals. Worlds in which Hispanic characters can represent social change rather than social problems. And worlds where people of color can be just…people.
These should be the stories the next generation grows up with.
We can’t all face down baton-waving police officers, but we can put a book in front of a child. And maybe, just maybe, we can change their world. And in doing so, we can let them change ours.
GIVEAWAY: Comment on this post by Noon (EST) on Tuesday, August 4th to win one of two copies of LITTLE MISS EVIL (U.S. only). Follow The Debutante Ball on Facebook and Twitter for extra entries—just mention that you did so in your comments. We’ll choose and contact the winners on Tuesday. Good luck!
Bryce and Kristy are a tag-team writing duo with way too many voices in their heads. As engineers living in Toronto, they can’t be safely contained by mere cubicle walls, and therefore must spend every other waking moment writing to keep the crazy from leaking out at the office. They are represented by Jamie Drowley at Inklings Literary, and you can find them at Kristy and Bryce, and on Twitter as @KristyShen.
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